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USA: Unvaccinated teens are fact-checking their parents — and trying to get shots on their own

11 Feb, 2019
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Ethan Lindenberger, frustrated by years of arguments about his mother’s anti-vaccination stance, staged a quiet defection on Reddit.

The Norwalk, Ohio, teenager needed advice, he said, on how to inoculate himself against both infectious disease and his family’s dogma. At 18, he was old enough, Lindenberger explained. He wanted to get vaccinated. But he didn’t know how.

“Because of their beliefs I’ve never been vaccinated for anything, God knows how I’m still alive,” Lindenberger wrote days before Thanksgiving.

As anti-vaccination movements metastasize amid outbreaks of dangerous diseases, Internet-savvy teenagers are fact-checking their parents’ decisions in a digital health reawakening — and seeking their own treatments in bouts of family defiance.

“This generation of unvaccinated children coming of age has looked at the science and want to protect themselves,” said Allison Winnike, president and chief executive of the Immunization Project, a Texas-based nonprofit vaccine advocacy group.

Anti-vaccination efforts spread after the publication of a now-debunked1998 study linking some immunizations to autism, Winnike said.

“Now you’re seeing children coming of age, out from a cloud of misinformation,” Winnike told The Washington Post on Monday.

 
Washington state measles outbreak rises to at least 50 cases
 

That transformation, like the spread of vaccination fears themselves, has taken place online.

At least three self-described teenagers from different states recently told Reddit they have a common problem: Their parents are staunchly opposed to vaccination, and they fear for their health if they do not take action.


Ethan Lindenberger

Lindenberger’s post drew more than 1,200 comments, including one from someone who identified as a nurse and provided detailed information on navigating the health-care system.

For Lindenberger, the tension over vaccines started years ago after he began to notice his mother posting anti-vaccination videos on social media, he told The Post on Sunday. His friends were getting vaccinated. So what was happening in his house?

Lindenberger read scientific papers and journals. He pulled up Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies on his phone at the dinner table, hoping his mother would relent and get him and his four younger siblings — now ages 16, 14, 5 and 2 — vaccinated.

“I looked into it; it was clear there was way more evidence in defense of vaccines,” he said.

His mother, Jill Wheeler, resisted; she claimed vaccines are health risks.

Wheeler was angered by his pursuit, she told Undark, an online science magazine. “It was like him spitting on me, saying ‘You don’t know anything, I don’t trust you with anything. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You did make a bad decision and I’m gonna go fix it,’ ” she told the site.

Wheeler did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.

Different state laws affect how minors can pursue their own medical interests. Most states do not allow anyone younger than 18 to pursue medical care without guardian approval, including immunizations, Winnike said.

In Ohio and 16 other states, parents can opt out of required vaccines for philosophical reasons. All but three states allow the exemption on religious grounds. (All 50 allow opt-out for medical reasons.)

Late last year, Lindenberger, now a high school senior, confided in a pastor, who suggested he was legally free to make decisions.

On Dec. 17, he walked into an Ohio Department of Heath office in Norwalk and received a cocktail of vaccines for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza and HPV, according to a shot record viewed by The Post.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 11th, 2019 at 7:01 pm and is filed under Latest News.

Literature Literature archive

Lee TH, McGlynn EA, Safran DG. 2019 JAMA 321(6):539–540. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.19186
MJ Bayefsky, LOGostin 2018 JAMA Pediatr. online Dec 28, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.4283
K I Hammanyero, S Bawa, F Braka, et al. 2018 BMC Public Health Vol 18 (Suppl 4) :1306 https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-018-6193-z

Videos Video archive

Key figures share their perspectives on a controversy that led to the suspension of Ebola vaccine clinical trials in Ghana.

Drs. Heidi Larson and Pauline Paterson of the Vaccine Confidence Project join episode 50 of the Public Health United podcast with Nina Martin, November 2017.

Drs. Larson and Paterson join a discussion on vaccine confidence at Hong Kong University.  September, 2015.

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